Facebook's bad press run isn't over — the social networking company find itself under fire once more for an exposed flaw in their Messenger Kids app that's supposed to be a safe chatting app for kids ages 6 to 13.
Released two years ago, Messenger Kids lets younger children communicate with contacts that have been filtered and pre-approved by their parents — or so Facebook maintained. According to The Verge, Messenger Kids has actually allowed unapproved strangers to permeate a number of children's' group chats in the app.
The Verge reports that Facebook quietly notified thousands of parents of the security concern via email this week, but it's unknown how long the design flaw afflicted the app. Here's the full warning Facebook sent:
"We found a technical error that allowed [CHILD]'s friend [FRIEND] to create a group chat with [CHILD] and one or more of [FRIEND]'s parent-approved friends. We want you to know that we've turned off this group chat and are making sure that group chats like this won't be allowed in the future. If you have questions about Messenger Kids and online safety, please visit our Help Center and Messenger Kids parental controls. We'd also appreciate your feedback."
The social media company has been shutting down the group chats in question, but have yet to make a public statement about the safety issue, which arose from unique permission settings within Messenger Kids. For one-on-on conversations in the app, parents must approve contacts before their child can initiate chats. But when it comes to multi-user chats, whoever launched the group can invite any user allowed to chat with them, even if that user isn't allowed to message with other members of the group.
A Facebook representative told the The Verge that the bug left thousands of kids in group chats with unauthorized users. Not only does this violate the foremost promise of Messenger Kids, but it's a legal problem, too: because Messenger Kids' users are under the age of 13, the app is subject to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Whether Facebook has violated COPPA will likely be investigated soon.
What parents can do
If your child uses the app, this might be a good time to remind them about social media safety.
As with any social media platform, parents should regularly communicate with their children about proper digital communication practices. Ask your child who they speak to online, and if they've met anyone who you did not pre-approve on Facebook Messenger Kids. As a parent, you may not be able to monitor your child’s entire digital presence, but you can encourage open communication and teach them how to handle interactions with users they may not know.